Review: Zorin OS 6 Core

Main Screen + "Zorin OS" GnoMenu
I've looked at Zorin OS before, and I liked what I saw then. That was based on Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal", and now the new Zorin OS version 6 is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", so I'm checking it out.

I haven't paid much attention to Zorin OS until recently because when GNOME 2 was still around, it seemed easy enough to create a Microsoft Windows-lookalike. Now, with GNOME 3, though, that is much more difficult. I saw on DistroWatch a bit about Zorin OS 6 RC, and the release announcement discussed using GNOME 3 and the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) dock with Compiz to recreate the old look. That really piqued my curiosity; that's why I'm doing this review, and because this looks like a possible candidate for long-term residence on my laptop's hard drive, I tried out the 64-bit version and did the more extensive round of tests.

I tried Zorin OS 6 Core 64-bit using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by the boot splash. Interestingly, the first time that the system booted, I saw a nice, blue, Zorin OS-branded splash screen, but on the second attempt, I was shown a blank screen. Anyway, after that came the desktop.

The desktop looks and operates shockingly like how it did in GNOME 2. AWN forms the bottom panel with, from left to right, GnoMenu as the main menu, DockBarX for icon-only task switching, a notification area that functions almost identically to the sliding indicator applets in recent versions of Ubuntu, a clock, and a system session button. The icon, GTK+, and window decoration themes are identical to before. Notifications are still done with Notify-OSD, although I would have preferred a simple black background for the notifications instead of the weird, garish blue that is used.
Google Chrome + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
There are a few niggles that I have with the desktop. The biggest of these is that no matter what GnoMenu theme is selected (and the "Lancelot" theme, which is as expected quite close to the KDE Lancelot menu, is included in this), it is not possible to access an application category's contents without clicking. There does appear to be a Linux Mint Menu applet for AWN, but it is said to be quite buggy, and I don't even know how that would work because GNOME 2 and its applets are not supported anymore yet AWN requires the normal Linux Mint Menu for GNOME 2 to be present for it to work in AWN itself.  Other minor issues include the misalignment of some desktop icons as well as the fact that AWN may cover some of the bottom-most icons. Also, clicking on various buttons produces a rather tinny sound effect. I would prefer something a bit softer/smoother or, better yet, no sound effects at all. I realize the sound effects are meant to make the Microsoft Windows users feel a little more at home, but the overall effect of the sounds is that of cheapness.

Google Chrome (not Chromium) is the default browser, and it works pretty well. Most proprietary codecs appear to be included, as YouTube and Hulu worked, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts. Other installed applications include LibreOffice, some GNOME games, GIMP, OpenShot, VLC, and other utilities.

The package manager is the Ubuntu Software Center, though its branding is removed, yielding just "Software Center". Synaptic Package Manager is included as well and can be started by searching for it in GnoMenu, yet it appears to not exist under any particular menu category, which is quite weird.
Skype, Google Talk, Mupen64Plus 1.5, and Redshift all installed and worked properly, which is good, though expected for a distribution based on Ubuntu. I also installed Sushi for file previewing through Nautilus, and that worked well too.

Compiz is the WM used with GNOME 3 here, and all the same effects from before (except for maybe the one where closed windows explode, because now they simple tilt and fade away) are enabled. This also means that the desktop cube is used for switching workspaces. That is bad because the version of Compiz included is the standard one present in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", and that has the bad bug of momentarily flickering windows from the previous workspace on the new workspace when switching. It would have been nice if the Zorin OS developers could have used a different effect by default to animate the switching of workspaces, because this as it stands creates a bad impression on new users (who very clearly comprise the target audience of Zorin OS).
"Lancelot" GnoMenu
I tried two different solutions. One was to use the PPA for Compiz 0.8.6 that I have talked about before. The other was to use the PPA for upcoming changes to Compiz 0.9.7 made by Daniel Van Vugt; I found this many weeks ago when searching for a solution to the desktop cube flicker issue in Compiz 0.9.7 in Ubuntu 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" and its derivatives. Unfortunately, both solutions caused even more error messages in Zorin OS, though they both fixed all issues with Compiz itself.
(For the record, I also tried the pre-proposed Compiz 0.9.7 PPA in Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" MATE. While that did not cause any stability issues, it was apparently incompatible with the latest versions of Emerald and the GTK-Window-Decorator, so in that session none of the windows had decorations. It appears that upcoming version of Compiz has some issues overall, despite fixing other problems with the current stable version of Compiz.)

Zorin OS 6 Core used 620 MB of RAM at idle. While this is a lot, it is important to remember that this is a GNOME 3 environment with Compiz as the WM and AWN as the panel, so there are a lot of resource-intensive processes being run. Thankfully, Zorin OS never felt slow for any reason.
Zorin OS was a little buggy, though. For no apparent reason at all, even when I had made no modification to the running version of Compiz, strange error messages would pop up momentarily. There were no crashes, but I couldn't help but question the stability of Zorin OS running on a hard drive and staying there for many months. Also, when changing the GnoMenu theme, GnoMenu would crash and require a click and a few seconds to reload itself.

That is where my time with Zorin OS ended. The Compiz and stability issues mean that I will, unfortunately, not be making it my next OS. I realize that the Zorin OS website recommends doing a full installation, because it does specifically say that the live session can be less stable, but I don't want to go through my usual song-and-dance again. I do think that this is a great system for newbies, and I can give it a fairly high recommendation (though I would like more stability overall). I should say though that there may be an uncanny valley for Zorin OS, in that it is obviously trying so hard to mimic the look of Microsoft Windows that any hint of negativity stemming from differences from Microsoft Windows will be magnified. It's one thing to have a panel on the bottom with, from left to right, a menu, a task switcher, and a notification area. It is quite another for that menu and task switcher to mimic that of Microsoft Windows 7 to a high degree. In any case, it may be a good idea for users with at least some small level of experience to sit down with a newbie and explain that despite how similar Zorin OS looks to Microsoft Windows, the two are different and there is often nothing that can be done to resolve those differences but to accept and appreciate them.
You can get Zorin OS here.